Do you want to write, self-publish and make money from writing erotica? Excellent!
As a self-published author, I have over 15 years experience in the self-publishing process, and I’m here to pass on my tips for self-publishing success. Although I’m addressing erotica in particular, the principles are the same for any genre.
I’m also talking about Amazon self-publishing as opposed to other eBook publishing platforms, and self-published work, rather than vanity-published or trad-published writing.
In this article, we’ll explain:
- Why Kindle is such a key market
- KDP, Kindle, and Kindle Unlimited
- What makes an erotic success
- How to successfully sell via Kindle
- Tips for new erotica writers
- How to use KDP to self-publish
We’ll also provide you with insider tips along the way, but let’s start by examining Amazon.
- Why Is Kindle/Amazon Such a Key Market for Self-Published Authors?
- How Do I Write and Sell a Successful Erotic Story?
- Tips for New Writer Success on Kindle
- The Writing Process
- The Amazon KDP Process
- How to Sell Erotica on Kindle
- Useful Resources
Why Is Kindle/Amazon Such a Key Market for Self-Published Authors?
The answer to the question is simple:
Because it’s free to publish via Amazon Kindle!
Anyone can do it, and you get to keep 60% or more of the profits. Ka-ching!
Amazon sells upwards of 487 million eBooks via its digital Kindle platform every year. This equates to 67% of all eBooks sold worldwide, and that figure reaches 83% when you add in Kindle Unlimited. In the UK alone, Amazon’s market share of eBook sales stands at 87.9%.
Amazon also sells 300 million print books per year, and like Kindle books, anyone can self-publish in print. Its share of the USA market for print books stands at over 70%.
That’s an awful lot of books, and a lot of income not only for Amazon but also for self-published authors. There’s an enormous market out there, and anyone can take their slice of it if they are willing to put in some hard work and mix it with a little luck.
However… Here’s a related cautionary comparison:
Over 90% of all film scripts never get filmed, and of the remaining 10%, even fewer achieve final release. Some say the figure is as low as 1% of completed scripts make it to the screen.
Well, the same applies to novels, particularly erotica.
Putting it bluntly, there are thousands of erotica novels, novellas and short stories for sale on Amazon Kindle, and around 90% of them are… let’s say ‘disappointing.’
Of the remaining 10%, only around 1% will be a massive financial success, and basically, we’re talking about ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ (There are others, but we’ll look at the success of ‘Fifty Shades’ in a moment.)
It’s not possible to even guess at how many books never make it to the ‘silver screen’ of publication, but for the thousands of stories being sold on Kindle right now, there are thousands more that:
- Were never written.
- Were written but not uploaded.
- Were written and uploaded but were never bought.
We’re here to find out how you can leapfrog over the hurdles and join the ranks of the published, because there is plenty of room for more.
In January 2023, the international research data and analytics group, WordsRated, came out with these interesting statistics:
- 30 to 40% of all eBooks are self-published.
- 300 million self-published books are sold each year.
- These books produce over $1.25 billion in revenue
- The global publishing market is expected to grow by 1% per year, whereas the self-publishing market is expected to grow at 17% p/a.
- The number of available self-published books has increased 264% in the last five years.
If you’re aiming for success as a self-published author with Amazon, it all begins with a thing called KDP.
What Is KDP?
KDP is shorthand for Kindle Direct Publishing, Amazon’s self-publishing platform. The key things to know about KDP are:
- KDP lets authors self-publish and cuts out the complicated and much-guarded traditional-publishing route.
- Authors can earn up to 70% of royalties, depending on the sales route and the country of publication.
- Your book can be made available worldwide.
- KDP combines what was Create Space, the Amazon paperback publishing platform, and since the merge, authors can produce:
- Kindle books
- Paperback versions through print-on-demand
- Hardback books
- KDP Select is where authors can put their books into Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Lending Library for extra benefits.
- Customisable books. Authors have complete control over how their book is presented, including:
- Layout and design
- Blurb and details
- With no middle-man publisher, KDP authors have more direct contact with their readers.
There are other benefits you will only discover once you start to use KPD.
For example, you can make changes to your book’s content once it is published without having to republish a second edition. We’re talking minor spelling errors or typos; you simply change the upload file and once approved it will replace the existing content without the book being withdrawn during the process.
You can also alter the price, run discount offers and sales (within boundaries), and change your blurb and a few other details after publication. You can’t do this with trad-published books.
What is Kindle Unlimited (KU)?
Kindle Unlimited (KU) is a subscription service for Amazon readers. Once signed up, the reader can borrow books, magazines and audiobooks at no extra charge.
If you include your title in KU, you stand more of a chance of earning royalties.
This is because you receive a percentage of the KU fund for each page of your work that is read during that month. This is calculated through the Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC). The amount of money you receive in royalties depends on your share of the total Kindle page reads, globally, for each month.
If you want figures: I’d say that 60% of my royalties come through KU, with the rest coming from Kindle sales and print sales. It varies by month, but one page read in Kindle equates to around $0.004 cents.
That doesn’t look like much, but if you have a decent-length novel of, say, 360 pages, you can earn $1.44 per book. That’s roughly the same as the royalties you can earn on a print sale or a Kindle sale. (It depends on how you price your paperbacks and Kindles.)
All this is background because you are not going to experience Amazon KDP without a completed manuscript, so the question arises:
How Do I Write and Sell a Successful Erotic Story?
Amazon doesn’t make public the number of books sold by genre, so we can’t say how many erotica books are available and sold on the Kindle platform or available in KU. The answer, though, would be in the hundreds of thousands.
Erotica is a competitive business, and to succeed, you need to know:
- Your audience and its expectations
- How to write in a way that is readable
- How to write erotica (it’s not as easy or sexy as you might think)
- How to present it on Amazon
- How to join KDP and upload your work without it being banned
- How to sell it
Much erotica on Amazon (by which we mean Kindle) are short stories and novellas of 10,000 to 20,000 words. Anyone can string together this number of words, especially when all you need to do is:
- Invent a scenario.
- Add a couple of characters.
- Describe them having sex.
- Find a neat ending, and fade out.
That’s it, right?
There’s so much more to writing and successfully publishing a story, novella, novel… anything on Amazon than putting naughty words on paper.
What Explains The Success of Fifty Shades of Grey?
It has to be mentioned. ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ by E.L. James, was originally published as an eBook by an independent, small, publisher in Australia called The Writers’ Coffee Shop.
The book became popular before being bought by Vintage Books who then produced the Kindle and paperback versions that hit the headlines. Same books, different presentation and marketing.
The Fifty Shades trilogy reached such acclaim, it is said, because of various factors, including:
- They hit the romance market at just the right time and in the right way.
- The publishers understood the erotica market.
- The characters and plot were modelled on the ‘Twilight’ fan fiction style, which was/is hugely popular.
- The book appeals to female readers. Whereas much porn and erotica we see is made for the man, erotica tends to be described from the woman’s point of view, and good erotica puts the woman’s needs and feelings first. ‘Fifty Shades’ does this.
- Sex sells.
Between 2010 and 2019, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ sold over 15.2 million copies. The others in the trilogy, combined, sold nearly 20 million between them.
However, the books have never appeared in any ‘erotica’ category within Amazon, and there is a reason for that as we will shortly discover.
We don’t know what percentage the author takes from the sales of these books, but with over 125 million copies sold worldwide (estimated in 2021), even if the author only received $1.00 per sale… Well, you can do the math.
What you want to know now, though, is how you can make the same fortune from writing erotica.
The Magic Formula of Sex and Danger
Here’s something worth considering: Sex and danger go together. This has been going on in literature since before Bram Stoker used a vampire’s teeth to stir erotic feelings in Mina Harker.
These days, erotica has moved into the foreground of fantasy sub-niches, and a quick look at the top 50 erotica titles on Amazon shows many of them are tied in with the ghost, horror, or fantasy niche.
Popular sex-and-danger sub-niches include:
- Shapeshifters; vampires, werewolves and others.
- Halloween tales
- Ghost stories and paranormal
- Fairies, elves and goblin-type creatures
- Devils and demons
- Gothic horror (think black and white movies that are more creepy than they are schlock.)
How Can I Successfully Sell Erotica on Kindle?
What are the core principles of what goes into producing successful erotica for Kindle? The answer is twofold:
- The writing must be good.
- You need to know how to sell your book.
That’s it, and yet it’s not, because those two principal necessities are not as straightforward as they sound, and both are complicated processes.
The good news is, anyone can learn them. All you need is a little dedication.
Tips for New Writer Success on Kindle
US journalist, Christopher Hitchens, is quoted as saying: “Everyone has a book inside them, which is exactly where it should, I think, in most cases, remain.”
One of the reasons niche writers fail is because they don’t know their genre or their niche. Just so we’re clear:
- A style or category of art, music or literature. (Don’t listen to anyone else; erotica is literature.)
- A specialized segment of the market for a particular kind of product or service.
For example, your genre might be historical and your niche might be the Napoleonic Wars.
More relevant, your genre might be romance, and your niche, erotica.
However, there are niches even within the erotica niche. The most popular of these, and therefore the most common, are:
- BDSM. Let your whip crack away but know your details.
- Billionaires. She falls for wealthy him, he takes advantage, and she either forgives him, or finds her inner self in some other way.
- Alpha Males. Big, strong, hunky pirates or landowners sweep vulnerable women off their silk slippers and rip open bodices with wild abandon on the windswept moors… kind of stuff.
- Ageplay/ABDL. Consensual older/younger age roleplay. (Always keep erotica consensual, otherwise, Amazon will bin you and once in the naughty bin, there’s no getting out of it.) ABDL, btw, stands for Adult Baby/Diaper Lovers. It’s a thing.
- Lesbian/Gay/Transgender. To my mind, this is another genre with its own subniches as all niches listed here could apply to LGBTQ+ novels.
- Swinging/Cuckold. This niche gives the reader an experience outside of their norm, which all writing should do, but it does it with a swing that allows for lots of sex.
TIP: Amazon has strange ways of dealing with erotica, so take a note from ‘Fifty Shades’, and notice how it falls under ‘romance’, not erotica. More about this later.
The good news is, anyone can write a book. The bad news is, that’s the easy part. The work starts when you try to sell it, but…
To make a success of your word baby, you have to start with something worth selling, and that means the work starts before you put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.
For your book to sell, it needs to be:
- Well written*
- Properly proofed
- Well presented
- Decently priced
- Well advertised
*TIP: Amazon won’t reject your book because of the way it’s written, it’s only judgmental about certain keywords and themes, but readers will reject you if the book is poor literary quality and full of typos and factual errors.
However, your book stands more of a chance of flying if it is well written, so let’s start with the writing process.
The Writing Process
The first draft of anything is sh*t.
Whether this quote comes from Earnest Hemmingway, as his biographer, Arnold Samuelson suggested in 1984, or whether it comes from elsewhere, as an author, I have to agree.
As a greener, a new, first-time author, I thought my first draft was my last draft; it’s the first pit new writers fall into. I’d be as rich as E.L. James if I had a dollar for every time someone has said to me, ‘I’ve just finished writing a book,’ when, in fact, they mean they have written a first draft.
I don’t want to bring anyone down, but here’s how the process usually goes:
You have an idea for a book, story, novella, whatever, and you can see it in your head. So, you sit down to write and spend hours bashing out your story until you have gone from A to D, hopefully via B and C, and it’s perfect.
You’ve included characters and descriptions, and lots of lovely sex, and been a bit naughty in the kinky scene, and ironic in the cosplay scene, while the pure porn of chapter one is an absolute testament to the best sex ever written on a page! It gets better when the gay couple get involved with the straight couple, and you present the reader with a full-on orgy of wild sexual abandon. Then, in chapter two…
Woah! Hang on a minute… What is this thing you’ve written?
Oh. It’s a 30,000-word novel, I’ve done my own cover, and I’m going to call it “Forty Shades of Beige.” It would make a great film.’
Within that rather tongue-in-cheek scenario, is a whole heap of things to avoid:
- For a start, 30,000 words is not a novel it’s a novella, and you’re not going to be popular if you try and sell it to readers as one thing when it’s something else. (There is a list of word lengths and categories at the end of this page.)
- Secondly, the title? Clearly a rip-off, and they never work (unless it’s fan fiction). ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is a play on words, as Grey is one of the characters. Although original, Mr Beige sounds like he belongs in Reservoir Dogs, not an erotic novella.
- Only design your own cover if you’re a graphic artist. This is discussed later.
- A full-on, multi-sexual orgy in chapter one? You have peaked too early, and so will your reader.
- Every author thinks their book would make a blockbuster movie or TV series. Many would, I’m sure, but very few do. Even if/when they do, what comes out on film is rarely what’s in the book, and authors can be shocked to see someone else’s interpretation of their work. (I know, from experience, and I wrote the script.)
Those are but a few pitfalls to avoid. What’s good about the above scenario is that the author is clearly excited about their first attempt at writing erotica.
Also good is that they appear not to suffer from the insecurities many first-time authors suffer from, and are proud to admit they have written erotica. So should you be (but it’s more than acceptable to use a pseudonym).
TIP: Amazon allows you to have up to three author names and separate pages linked to your one Amazon account. All royalties from all three author accounts are paid together monthly under the main account. Royalties are paid two months after the sales month.
TIP: No matter what you have written, or how you have written it, be proud of your achievement
TIP: However, be prepared for criticism because no-one likes an author’s work more than the author.
Most authors hate it when other people’s reactions to their work are not as enthusiastic as their own. Yes, you have written a lot of words and described a lot of sex, but that doesn’t mean you’ve written a readable erotic novel.
TIP: Don’t be happy with your first draft.
I’ll make a bold statement and back it up with personal experience.
All Writing Needs is Planning
My process looks like this:
- Draft outline
- What the story is about. You can’t just write one sex scene after another unless you’re working for a porn studio.
- The structure. Plot and characters develop. The reader needs to associate with a principal character, sometimes two, and see that person go from A to D via the plot trials of B and C.
- The plot and how the erotica will fit into it. Sex, in a story, shouldn’t be gratuitous. Even if the main point of a scene is sex, you need to lead up to it, and fade away from it afterwards.
- The Blurb
- The blurb is the text you put on Amazon that tells the prospective reader what to expect. It should also draw them to the book as much as the cover.
- It’s useful, but not easy, to write a blurb before you start on draft one, because it focuses your mind. Referring to it as you go will keep you on track.
- However, you are the creator, so you can always change it as you go.
- I sometimes write the blurb after I’ve finished the writing process, sometimes I do it before. Either way, I always start by knowing the Who, What, Where, When and How of the story. The bare bones if you like.
- First draft
- This is the hard work, where you sit and write, type it all out, and force yourself to keep going.
- You write the first draft with your heart, and you rewrite with your head. (James Ellison, ‘Finding Forrester.’)
- It can be a long and tedious process, but stick with it.
- Second draft
- Now you know the characters and story you can rework everything with a clearer idea of where you are going, what the story is, and who the characters are.
- You don’t need to completely rewrite, you can change parts, and move thing around, though some authors say you should only do complete rewrites, and never do substantial edits to existing pages. You’ll find your own balance.
- Third, fourth, fifth drafts…
- As many as you think you need, but be careful not to over-tinker for fear of messing up your facts, timelines, and consistencies.
Now, or along the way, you need to set your mind to the practicalities of publication. This process includes sourcing and probably paying for the following necessities:
- An editor
- If you want to work with someone else who knows what they are doing, you’ll need an editor, and we’re not talking about your cousin who once read ‘It Happened One Summer.’ A good editor will guide your work, suggest market-led ideas and changes, point out plot holes and character development issues, and all those things you won’t want to hear.
- A proofreader
- No matter how many times I read, reread and then read again, I always find at least one typo in my published manuscript (MS). I employ a proofreader whose job it is to change any obvious typos, and query any unusual words.
- I write a lot of Victoriana, and the language is often old-fashioned. Fancy some gamahouche, Sir? (It’s a bow job.)
- My proofreader also addresses my punctuation to ensure consistency and style.
- A cover artist
- Unless you are one, hire one. Watch out though, some artists have quoted upwards of $4,000 for a cover. I pay my artist €100 for a Kindle cover and a full, wrap-around cover for print books (Front and back artwork), and that includes a few mock-ups (ideas/trial concepts).
- Make sure you know the print size of your book before commissioning a cover because the dimensions have to be correct.
- Amazon has an online cover creator plugin, but the danger there is, unless you know design, your cover will end up looking like everyone else’s.
- Covers need to be original, eye-grabbing, and relevant to the story.
- Interior design
- So many eBooks look dreadful because the author has set them out in Word, uploaded them to Amazon, and the two formats are not easily compatible. I mean, have you ever tried to do wrap-around text in Word? Or struggled with page numbering? It gets worse when you try and convert your MS to Kindle format, though things are getting better, and automated Amazon tools really help.
- I began by doing my own internal covers which meant having to learn Adobe InDesign, a powerful desktop publishing software. Headaches or what? I’m not a designer, and although my early books look fine, if I need to make any changes, I have to reformat the whole book.
- I use a company to set out my internals, as it were. They format the book according to a template I have agreed with them, they deal with any illustrations or maps (for my mysteries; you shouldn’t need a map in an erotic novel), and the front matter and back matter. The service, for which I pay a one-off fee of $75.00 covers:
- As many changes to it as I want
- Digital files for Kindle, ePub, Kobo, Apple, Google, Nook, and print (Pdf).
- Future alterations and resupplying all formats if I later find a typo or two (inevitable, it seems).
With all that done, you should now have a novella, novel or whatever completed to your satisfaction, thoroughly checked and professionally proofed, covered and set out, and you’re ready to let it loose on the world.
I know it sounds like a lot of faffing about, but, believe me, it will be worth it in the end. What you don’t want are bad reviews on Amazon, especially ones that might mention spelling mistakes or lazy writing.
Here are a few more tips on the writing process.
TIP: Set aside your writing time and protect it with your life.
TIP: Even if you don’t feel like writing, write something. As American author, Regina Brett, famously said, A writer writes. Even if what comes out is on the same standard as Hemmingway’s ‘Sh*t’, at least you would have done some practice. You can throw it away if you want, but I’d keep it in case there’s something in it for later.
My advice to any writer has always been: “Don’t get it right, get it written. Then get it right.”
A Checklist for Your First Steps to Success
To sum up so far:
- Know your genre.
- Research and read in your chosen niche.
- Be disciplined (not in that kinky way).
- Write, rewrite and write again.
- Keep at it.
- Use professionals for editing, proofing and design.
Then, learn how to use Amazon KDP, and that leads me neatly into the next section.
The Amazon KDP Process
Armed with the best erotica ever written, you are ready to head off into the glory of your first online publication via the hallowed portals of Amazon.
You do that via KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing).
Why Amazon? Because self-publishing on Amazon is easy and free, and the company is the most influential in the online book-selling market:
- Amazon sells between 50% and 80% of all books sold in the USA.
- Amazon accounts for more than 27% of all UK book sales (2020).
- In the same year, it accounted for 50% of all books sold in Canada.
- eBooks account for around 20% of the company’s revenue.
- Romance is the most popular genre in Amazon books at roughly 14% of all eBooks.
- Erotica usually falls under the romance genre.
Before I tell you how to publish your erotica on Amazon, it’s worth bearing in mind the Amazon dungeon.
The Amazon ‘Dungeon’
This is a term coined by KDP users, and not an official expression from the Great Zon itself.
When self-publishing on Amazon, it’s vital to remember that for such a large, worldwide company, it can be prissy. For example:
- If your cover shows anything too sexual or graphic, it’s unlikely Amazon will consider it for free promotional offers and advertising, even though you pay them to advertise, and it will go in the dungeon.
- Amazon’s bots search out ‘inappropriate’ content within blurbs, titles and keywords, and they can refuse to publish anything they deem inappropriate.
- When you upload a book, you can say whether it contains adult content (18 +), and if you say ‘yes’, your book may well end up in the dungeon.
This doesn’t mean you can’t sell erotica, it just means you have to be careful. The age-appropriate checkbox during the upload process is optional, but if you have a full-on steamy sex romp clearly intended for adults only, and you fail to mark it as such (and they find out), you could find your book banned and your profile put on hold or deleted.
However, if you do mark your book as 18+, it may well not receive the same amount of placement and promotion as a non-18+ book. It may be put into the ‘dungeon’ and be rendered unsearchable.
It sounds contradictory, but it doesn’t apply to every piece of erotica; you simply have to be careful how you present the book.
Amazon has very clear guidelines and a lot of them. It’s worth taking a few hours to read through them all so you don’t fall foul of their automated system. They also have a physical complaints process via the phone, but many authors have reported this is a far from easy route to take. So, it’s best to avoid the pits before you fall into them.
Fifty Shades of Grey, the first book in the trilogy, is a good example of how to avoid the dungeon. Currently, this book sits on Amazon.com at these rankings in these categories:
- #3,320 in Women’s Fiction (Audible Books & Originals)
- #6,918 in Contemporary Romance (Audible Books & Originals)
- #10,678 in Billionaire Romance
Note: None of those categories mentions the word ‘Erotica’, yet everyone knows the book is about BDSM.
TIP: Be careful how you market your book on Amazon. Don’t make the cover too ‘bare-flesh’ or graphic, be wary of overly suggestive titles and blurb, manage your keywords appropriately, and be savvy about what category you put your book into.
Amazon has a category for erotica, but its searchability is restricted.
I’ll explain the physical upload process in a moment, and you will see what I mean about keywords and categories.
What to Expect from Using KDP
The KDP process is an easy one to get to grips with and each part comes with notes on how to proceed. Still, you’re best advised to read the help sections of the site before moving through the stages, as this can save time and confusion.
TIP: On your first time out on the KPD platform, have the guidance and help pages open in another window so you can easily refer to them.
At first, the pages might look overwhelming, but they’re not really. In the next section, I will take you through the basics of how to upload your book to Amazon KDP, stage by stage.
The KDP Basics
First things first. Sign up for KDP. If you are already an Amazon customer, you can sign in with your existing details; if not, register your email address and create a password as you would with any site.
Once that’s done, you should read through the ‘Manage Your KDP Account’ section of the help screen.
There, you will see you must supply certain official information including tax info. You have to provide this because, Amazon issues payments that can be regarded as income. We must receive and validate your tax identity information before you can update existing books or publish new books in the Kindle store.
There is no getting away from that, but it doesn’t mean non-US citizens can’t publish; anyone can, as long as you provide your tax details. These vary by country, and Amazon will remind you when it’s time for them to be updated.
I won’t go into the details of margins and bleed, front and back matter, and trim size, because these are all explained in the Amazon help pages.
TIP: Don’t be put off by the jargon. It’s all explained on Amazon Help, and elsewhere.
Amazon also gives you formatting tools, templates, advice on formatting issues, and other very detailed help.
You can only use certain kinds of files when uploading book content, covers and internal illustrations. Acceptable file formats for your book’s MS are:
- PDF (.PDF)
- Microsoft Word (.DOC, .DOCX)
- HTML (.HTML, .HTM)
- RTF (.RTF)
- Text (.TXT)
- Cover and Images (.JPG, .JPEG, .GIF, .PNG, .BMP)
- EPUB (.EPUB)
If you are using a formatting service, then you will want to end up with an ePub file for the Kindle content, and a Pdf for the print content. The cover should be in jpeg format. Again, the specifications are all there and very specific.
Create. Manage. Publish.
With files ready, you head to the Create, Manage, Publish page, also known as your dashboard. There, you can select to create a Kindle or paperback.
There are four sections to this next process, and they are all explained by Amazon as you go through them. To detail them here would take too long, and it’s a pretty self-explanatory process, but here are a few tips to look out for:
Tips for uploading your book (in either format)
- Edit Print Book Details. This is the first and basic info page.
- Get your spelling right.
- You can’t change the title once it’s there.
- Subtitles will appear on the book’s public page in brackets beside the title.
- If this is part of a series, you don’t need to put ‘Book One’ as a subtitle this will look odd on the public page.
- You add series details next. Your book doesn’t have to be part of a series, but if it is, make sure you list it as such here.
- Book description: this is where you put your well-formatted, pithy and attention-grabbing blurb. You can use code or type it straight in. For best results, I use Kindlepreneur (see below)
- When self-publishing, you own the copyright (unless you’re publishing for someone else).
- Primary Audience. This is the gateway to the dungeon, so think carefully about whether you enter this optional info.
- Choose 3 Categories. You should probably choose ‘Romance’ as the first category, followed by Erotica (which is allowed, despite the dungeon).
- Paperback/Kindle Content. Page two. There’s not much to note here as it’s straightforward, but there are two points to bear in mind:
- Amazon will give you an ISBN number (International Standard Book Number) if you haven’t already bought one elsewhere.
- AI-Generated content. You need to be honest here. Amazon is cracking down on the use of AI, and if you have used it in any way, say so or risk being booted off the platform.
- Rights and Pricing. Where you say how much you want to earn.
- You’ll need to read the section on territories and worldwide rights, and decide on your primary Amazon shop (US, UK, Canada… Wherever you are based is best).
- You set the price according to an Amazon minimum and maximum. Print books have a minimum print cost, and Kindle can’t be beneath $0.99. You can run freebies and promotions later.
With those pages completed (and the system will tell you if you miss anything), you hit the Publish button, usually with nerves jangling because you’re convinced you’ve done something wrong. It can take up to 72 hours for your book to appear, and about the same amount of time for you to hear if there is a problem that the autobots didn’t detect during the process.
Once you’ve set up a Kindle or a Paperback, the other format/version is easy to do as much of what you have added (blurb, keywords etc.) is automatically shared between the two upload processes.
You don’t have to publish both; you can work entirely on Kindle, entirely in print, or both. You can also make hardback books, but that’s a fairly new process and probably not that appropriate for erotica.
I mentioned Kindlepreneur. This is a service created by a guy called Dave Chesson, and it’s free. Head to the page and you will find all kinds of resources for self-published authors, including the blurb formatter I now use to layout my blurbs, so they look more attractive on Amazon.
This service now includes an AI regeneration of your blurb, which can be handy in suggesting words you might not have thought of, but frankly, I wouldn’t use it directly. Everyone can tell AI language from an author’s own, and as an author, you are, a creator not a copier.
How to Sell Erotica on Kindle
There’s a common misconception among first-time self-publishers that once your book is ‘out there’ on Amazon, it will sell thousands of copies and you will be able to buy your summer retreat in the South of France.
Amazon publishes around 1.42 million self-published books per year (plus around 1,000 of its own imprints). That’s a lot of titles vying for number-one spots and readers’ wallets, on Amazon alone. In total, it’s been estimated there are now four million self-published books produced each year worldwide.
The good news is, the number of authors earning $50,000 a year from Amazon self-published royalties increased 40% during 2020 to 2021, and romance/erotica is a large part of that market. (Romance generally is probably the biggest.)
The question is, how do you cash in? The answer is publicity.
Best Marketing Practices for Amazon Success
Advertising successfully on Amazon is no different than successfully advertising elsewhere, and there are three ways of going about it:
- Pay a company a lot of money and trust them to publicise your work.
- Do it yourself.
- A hybrid of the two where you pay someone to do your publicity work under your direct control.
Personally, I use the number three method and pay a PA (Personal Assistant) to promote and advertise my books while I get on with the business of writing.
TIP: To be successful, you must be constant and consistent. One good book a) won’t sell itself no matter how good, and b) will have only a limited shelf life before interest wanes. Keep the publicity machine going.
Unless you strike (very) lucky and turn out another Fifty Shades, or manage to hit some nerve and gain good or bad publicity from the off, you will need to do a lot of groundwork to get your book noticed and keep it noticed.
There are several basic and mainly free ways to publicise your book. The more creative you can be, the better, and with a little imagination the options are limitless.
Here are the most used, tried and tested ways of drawing attention to your publication:
- Have your own blog or website. Create somewhere where you can attract your readers and give them something of yourself, update them with news, give away free samples of your writing, keep them informed.
- Increase your online presence. Set up a Facebook, Instagram and/or other social media accounts for you as an author. Keep these running, use Facebook advertising if you must (I don’t; it’s a nightmare), but keep yourself ‘out there.’
- Learn from your genre and niche. See what else is selling and how. Examine the publicity surrounding other authors of similar erotica and learn from their experiences.
- Get book reviews. Always helpful for authors, as long as the reviews are well-written and honest. Even a low-star review can help with publicity.
- Note: You can’t add your own reviews and nor can anyone else listed as associated with your books. I.e. cover designer.
- Make sure your blurb is on-point, uses power words, and is not a synopsis of the entire story but is succinct.
- Ensure your Amazon keywords are relevant. You set these during the upload process but can always change them.
- TIP: If your book is in, say, the Romance category, you don’t need ‘romance’ as a keyword; it’s already in the search.
- Make sure you have a professional cover design. On Amazon, homemade screams ‘homemade’ and puts people off from the start.
- Maximise your distribution. Despite its size, Amazon doesn’t sell every book in the world, and it is possible to list your work on other platforms at the same time.
- You should also consider self-publishing through iBooks, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, and Kobo.
- Warning: If you do this, you won’t be able to include your title in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. KU is reserved for books that only appear on Amazon.
- Note: I make about 80% of my royalties from Kindle Unlimited, so it’s a huge part of my setup. Kindles and print books via Amazon account for the rest.
- Use Amazon’s book promotions and tools. There are many of them, including:
- KDP Select where you can put up limited-time promotions, price discounts, free books.
- Author Central, where you list your profile and books, and where you can have your website/blog feed in updates. You can personalise this page and share its link with Social Media etc.
- Expanded Distribution. You can have your book included in distribution to libraries, and other online retailers to spread your potential market. However, you won’t earn as much in royalties from these external sales.
- Join the Goodreads author program. With over 65 million readers, Goodreads is an excellent place to list your books. Recently, I’ve noticed Amazon does this automatedly for me, but you will need to set up a Goodreads account/profile first.
Publicity (And Words of Warning)
I don’t mean to put a damper on things, but there are a few more things to expect and pitfalls to avoid, especially when it comes to publicity.
ARC stands for Advanced Reader Copy. This is where you send your book (usually the digital file) to other people and in return for a free read, they post a review on Amazon.
Yeah, well… This was a popular way for authors to generate all-important reviews, but it is now frowned upon, especially, it seems, by Amazon itself. Their bots are now trained to identify phrases such as, ‘I reviewed this book as an ARC reader,’ or, ‘This review is in return for an advanced copy’, and no matter how glowing the review, Amazon will remove it, and you could end up in trouble.
Another danger of using ARC readers, especially if found through a Facebook or other group setup purely for ARC readers, is that you’re giving your file to a complete stranger. Do this, and within a month or so, you can expect to see your book on pirate sites being downloaded for free. Yes, it happens, and there is virtually nothing you can do about it.
What applies to ARC readers applies to paid reviewers. My advice is, don’t.
These are companies who purport to read your book and do a little publicity work for you via their reviews. You pay them $25.00, and they will send your information out to 50,000 readers, or to their 70,000 Facebook followers, or rather…
They’ll put it on an email which will probably get flagged as spam by most decent anti-spam systems, and no-one will see it anyway.
I tried such companies in my early days and didn’t see any increase in sales or interest whatsoever. Now, several years later, I still receive at least three emails per day from these and similar companies.
TIP: If you get an email that starts **Dearest Jackson Marsh**, or worse, *Dear Author*, file it under WPB. (Waste Paper Basket.) Even if it has a header along the lines of “Put Name of Book in the hands of over 50,000 readers now!” In the bin.
Take the chance if you want, but if you do, keep a note of sales before, during and after the alleged promo, and see if there is a difference, because there are some bona fide promotion companies out there.
So, How Does the Money Come in?
Through sheer hard work.
The bottom line when selling your erotica on Amazon Kindle is that it’s no good just putting it out there and hoping for the best. To keep interest alive, you have to work as hard on publicity as you did on creating the best erotica ever written.
That’s why I pay a PA to do much of my publicity work. Every author does this in a different way, for me, it’s easy: I don’t stress about sales.
What I do, though, is:
- Run a website and blog which I update twice per week with relevant info, research tips, tricks, general articles and a little ‘this is what I am up to in my personal life’, to keep readers connected.
- Have an author page on Facebook, and make use of its business tools to promote my virtual store (which links to the books’ Amazon pages).
- Run a private Facebook group. I call mine ‘Jackson’s Deviant Desires’ because my most popular title is called ‘Deviant Desire.’ Give this group things the general author page readers don’t get.
- Join other Facebook groups to connect to the audience and other authors, most of whom are just as keen as you to cross-publicise. I.e., you mention them on your blog, and they will mention you.
- Be wary of promo groups and pages as they tend to be advert farms that no-one really pays attention to, other than the author doing the self-publicity.
- Use other social media to your advantage.
- Run giveaways and competitions.
- Have a newsletter and send it out as and when a new title comes out; but be careful not to spam.
- Be choosy when deciding which third-party companies to use for publicity. The only two I pay to host my books, profile and links are:
- All Author. https://allauthor.com/
- Queer Romance Ink, because I write queer novels. https://www.queeromanceink.com/
- Be inventive. Right now, I am running a competition on my Facebook page and group: readers list their favourite characters, and one chosen at random will win a calendar featuring the covers from one of my series. You can also try producing merchandise; everyone loves a tee shirt.
- Free Publicity. There is nothing to stop you from putting up free samples of your work on sites like Literotica to get your name known. In fact, this is how I started in the business of writing. Again, it’s about making connections with readers and other authors.
- Enter competitions. But make sure they are genre-appropriate.
How To Track Your Royalties
Talking purely of Amazon, it’s easy to see how much money you are making.
Under KPD, you have a thing called the Dashboard, it it’s not just about publishing the book itself. Across the top, you will see:
- Where you create, publish and amend your titles and their info.
- Where you see your royalties.
- Help department and a very useful forum.
- Here, you have Author Central for your public profile, you can set up Amazon Ads (a whole different kettle of complicated fish), run price promotions, and a thing called A+ Content, where you can add images, text and tables to your book’s Amazon page.
There is also a service called ‘KDP University’, where you can view webinars, videos and other materials to help you promote and make more money for Amazon… and, hopefully, yourself.
When talking about royalties, however, the Reports page is your best friend, and a rather addictive one at that. Here, you can view various finance-related details by month or day, year, period, etc. These include:
- Reports on Kindle orders, sales, KU page reads (that $0.004 per page setup), your promotions and pre-orders. The reports are presented in real time.
- Tools gives you a royalties estimator with your current royalty amount based on previous month/period sales.
- Kindle Vella is a new service where authors can serialise their books over a period of time.
- Statements gives you your prior month’s royalties and records of payments made to your bank account, plus other financial reports.
In summary, once you are signed up and working with KDP, it’s very easy to see your sales. You can also make use of a thing called Get Book Report which ties into your Amazon sales dashboard and presents you with graphs and titles in a wide range of time periods. It’s not always 100% up to date, but tends to be accurate within a few hours.
It’s based on what Amazon already shows you, and that’s often estimated.
Common Traits of Kindle Success Stories
We’ve mentioned ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, and that’s probably the most well-known Kindle success story in the erotica market. There are others, and you only need to search Amazon to see what the top-selling erotica titles are.
If you do, you will notice a few common traits, and there are lessons to be learnt from them:
- Eye-catching covers, often but not always depicting topless hunky men, or women wrapped in their arms.
- Seasonally appropriate releases: Halloween or Christmas erotica, for example.
- Prices ranging from $0.99 to $5.99.
- They don’t all have five-star reviews.
- The authors have their own Amazon author page.
- Most have a ‘read sample’ option enabled.
If you want to be a Kindle success story, then you need to be cynical about sites and articles that boldly announce, ‘Here’s how you can make $$$ from writing erotica for Kindle.’
As we’ve seen, there are dos and don’ts, tips and tricks, but it all comes down to hard and consistent work. If you want to be another ‘Fifty Shades’, you need to work at more than writing a compelling story with lots of steamy sex.
What follows is a list of the resources I use, and others, which are designed to aid authors write and sell their erotica.
To write well, you need to read lots. Sadly, there are thousands of ‘How to be a Better Writer’ books out there, and most of them are the same old regurgitations.
If you are writing erotica, then you should read the classic: Elements of Arousal by Lars Eigher.
Okay, so it was published in 1994 for authors of gay erotica and it pre-dates the internet, but the basics of how to structure an erotic scene, how there’s ever only one cum shot per scene, and other erotic writing tips are all in there. Its advice works just as well with straight erotica as it does with gay.
Nothing turns a reader off more than typos and bad grandma. (See? Always double-check your spelling and grammar.)
Still a number one go-to for American/English grammar rules is Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White.
Novel Length Guides
Here’s a brief rundown on the lengths of written works and what to call them when choosing the right Amazon category for your book.
These are not hard and fast rules, but a guide to the word count and what, generally, that number of words is called.
|Short Story||Under 20,000 words. Most short stories are between 1,000 and 7,500 words.|
|Novelette||Usually between 7,500 and 20,000 words. (This category isn’t very often used.)|
|Novella||Between 20,000 and 50,000 words. Shorter than novels but longer than short stories, Novellas focus on a single theme or character.|
|Novel||Over 50,000 words. Most novels published for adult readers fall between 70,000 and 120,000 words.Romance novels often range from 50,000 to 90,000 words.|
|Flash Fiction||Often no more than 1,000 words, and sometimes as few as 100 words.This is a good way to publicise, but you won’t sell much flash fiction because it’s too short to fit a price range.|
Self-Publishing Vs Vanity Publishing
A quick note: there is a huge difference between self-publishing and what’s known as vanity publishing.
Vanity publishing is where you pay a company to ‘publish’ your novel and in return for your several thousand dollars, they agree to edit, layout, design, publish and promote your book. You may get ten copies out of it, but in my experience, and the experience of other authors I know, you’ll be lucky to get much more. You may well end up losing your copyright too, so always proceed with caution.
TIP: If your work is worth publishing, someone will pay you to publish it; it should never be the other way around. There’s no need. Not when you can self-publish on Kindle for a fraction of the cost.
The only costs I incur are these:
- Professional cover design
- Illustration (I usually include one per book)
- Internal layout
- All Author and QRI book listing services.
That lot combined costs me roughly $250 per book. I was once approached by a vanity publisher who wanted $5,000 to publish one book for me.
When publishing on Amazon, you will find all the technical specifications and information you need in two key places.
- Amazon Author’s Help – https://author.amazon.com/help
- KDP Help Center home – https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help
Other Useful Resources
- People Per Hour (https://www.peopleperhour.com/): Freelance artists, designers, proofreaders, ghostwriters (use with caution)
- Fiverr (https://www.fiverr.com/): Ditto
- Literotica (https://www.literotica.com/): Give away free stories and gain a readership
- All Author (https://allauthor.com/): Book listings and publicity tools
- Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/): Like a massive books club.